The Arts: Poetry              The Canadian Press             Nancy-Gay Rotstein

Poet Nancy-Gay Rotstein makes every word sing
Collection spans 35 years


Rod Currie
The Canadian Press
June 16 2002

Poet Nancy-Gay Rotstein finds shards of inspiration most every place she goes, selectively vacuuming up images, ideas, emotions and insights that later are fashioned into one of her eloquent, no-nonsense poems.


But she doesn't sit around waiting for her inspirations to age, to mature. She gets straight to work.

"The joy of my work is in the act of writing," she says, adding that she often pulls out a notebook and starts writing on the spot "And it is a humbling experience when just the right word shows up - it's like a gift."

Now, as a gift to her farflung fans, Rotstein, who lives in the Toronto area, has published This Horizon and Beyond, a collection of poems over the last 25 years that includes many new or previously unpublished works.

The scope is vast, ranging from her family circle and the cribside of her baby daughter, through her extensive world travels to China, Italy, Japan, Israel, her passion for the Canadian landscape and her cunning snapshots of people everywhere, crafted in poem portraits of friends and observed strangers.

Rotstein, 58, and mother of three grown children, started in law school at age 39.


Although she is a member of the Ontario bar and has a master's degree in history, she has never practised law.


But she's been busy, serving on such boards as the Canada Council, the National Library and Telefilm Canada.

Her earlier books, translated into many languages and widely published, include Through the Eyes of a Woman (1975), Taking Off (1979) and China: Shockwaves (1987), the result of being granted a rare no-restrictions travel visa by the Chinese government in 1980.

Her only novel, Shattering Glass, has been translated into eight languages.

Poet Irving Layton, in a rather adoring foreword, writes that Rotstein's new 170-page volume presents poems that "possess a hard, flinty, classical quality."

"There is not a word that is superfluous. There is not a word that does not go straight for its mark and say what it wants to say."

In return, Rotstein saluted Layton, whom she thinks of as a pretend curmudgeon with a generous heart, in her poem Greatness: "Great old bear you fooled them all, critics, interviewers with your hauteur and ripe illusions."

Although she was a published poet at age 12-her grandmother secretly submitted a poem to Chatelaine magazine, which ran it - she remained a secret scribbler for years before submitting works on her own.

Her reach is boundless, from lightweight subjects such as-in Rummage Sale ("who shall claim you for fifty cents?") to snipes at corporate arrogance in Power- "they tilt champagne in padded boardrooms and toast success.. they have captured our world and hold us all to ransom."

She writes of war and rape, of her distant travels, of a mother, face glowing, cradling the enlarged head of her handicapped son, soaring, in Carousel.

In The Visitor she evokes the terrible tragedy of French army officer Alfred Dreyfus, imprisoned on spurious charges "of espionage, victim of injustice and anti-Semitism:

"I saw Alfred Dreyfus at the Bagel Bar... his eyes schooled in sadness... Tears pock his prison-pallored face..."

Nancy-Gay Rotstein © 2002